After the Dodgers finish off this series against the Rockies at Coors Field, they have Thursday off. That is September 1, when active roster limits expand and teams can carry as many as 40 active players at once instead of the usual 25.
It is quite rare for teams to get all the way to 40 players on the active roster, with the general guideline that players aren’t called up unless they have a chance to actually contribute in some fashion.
Since minor league seasons still going, with regular seasons ending Monday and some playoff appearances after that, some players will come up later in the month.
Manager Dave Roberts said over the weekend that the Dodgers’ initial wave of call ups would include three players — pitchers Casey Fien and Louis Coleman, and catcher Austin Barnes. Like clockwork, a third catcher is always a part of the initial group on Sept. 1.
As for the rest of the 40-man roster, I have split them into a few groups.
Yasiel Puig has been the elephant in the room since he was sent to the minors on Aug. 1. He has performed quite well, hitting .369/.414/.631 in 18 games for Triple-A Oklahoma City, but the reasons for his demotion were much more encompassing that just his on-field performance, and in recent days Roberts has danced around any questions of whether Puig would be called up in September. Consider his status the great unknown.
The other two in this category are infielders Chris Taylor and Micah Johnson, perhaps joining the Dodgers after playoff-bound Oklahoma City ends their season. Taylor was optioned to Triple-A on Aug. 21, so his first day eligible to return is Sept. 1.
Johnson played two major league games in April, but hasn’t returned to the majors since he was optioned on April 11.
Whenever they are healthy
The next step for Kershaw is facing hitters at Dodger Stadium on Tuesday, after three successful bullpen sessions in the last week and a half. It was initially thought Kershaw would need to pitch in a minor league rehab game before rejoining the Dodgers, especially since he hasn’t pitched since June 26, but Roberts left open the possibility of an even quicker return in talking with reporters on Monday.
Roberts said it is a POSSIBILITY that @ClaytonKersh22 is to activated after the simulated game tomorrow. Depends on how he comes out of it.— Alanna Rizzo (@alannarizzo) August 29, 2016
Kershaw still throwing to hitters tomorrow. Possibly activated after that, depending how he comes out of it. McCarthy also throwing Tuesday.— Ken Gurnick (@kengurnick) August 29, 2016
McCarthy looked very good in his first month back from Tommy John surgery, but all of a sudden lost control of where several of his pitches were going, walking a career-high five batters in three consecutive August starts. He was placed on the disabled list on Aug. 14 with right hip stiffness, and is eligible to return whenever he is deemed healthy.
McCarthy will throw to Class-A Rancho Cucamonga hitters along with Kershaw and Brett Anderson on Tuesday at Dodger Stadium.
Ethier has been out since fracturing his right tibia fouling a ball off his leg in spring training in March. To date, Ethier has played three minor league rehab games with the Quakes, going 4-for-10 with two doubles and a pair of hit by pitches. Ethier was the designated hitter for two of his three games, and played four innings in right field on Saturday.
Roberts on Monday told reporters a Sept. 1 activation for Ethier is unlikely, which coalesces with what he said last week.
"We're definitely working against the calendar,” Roberts said. “We're going to try to get him as many at-bats as we can before he gets here.”
The left-hander last pitched for the Dodgers on May 30, and had arthroscopic surgery on his left elbow in late July. The tentative plan for Wood is, if he is able to return, to pitch in relief for the remainder of 2016, something he did with the Braves for parts of 2013-2014.
Watching the calendar
Several players cannot be brought back to the majors just yet, either still on optional assignment or on the disabled list.
Josh Fields - Sept. 2
Fields was optioned to Triple-A on Aug. 23, so unless he is replacing someone else going on the disabled list he has to stay in the minors for 10 days. So the earliest Fields can otherwise return to the Dodgers is Friday.
Luis Avilan - Sept. 4
The left-handed reliever was optioned to Triple-A on Aug. 25. That means his sixth recall to the Dodgers in 2016 can’t come before Sunday.
Brett Anderson - Sept. 5
Anderson has made all of two starts this season after recovering from spring training back surgery. His current DL stint is for a blister on his left hand, and will join Kershaw and McCarthy in throwing to minor league hitters on Tuesday at Dodger Stadium. Anderson last started on Aug. 20, so his return can’t come before Monday, after he serves his 15 days.
Brock Stewart - Sept. 6*
Stewart was optioned to the minors on Monday, and sent to Double-A Tulsa because they have the worst relative playoff standing among Dodgers affiliates. Oklahoma City and Rancho Cucamonga already clinched, Great Lakes and Ogden are in playoff position with a week remaining, but Tulsa is on the outside looking in at the moment. That means that the Drillers’ season has the best chance of ending first.
*Tulsa’s last regular season game is Monday, meaning Stewart could then return to the majors on Tuesday. Should the Drillers make the playoffs, Stewart would have to wait the full 10 days in the minors, pushing his return date back to Sept. 8.
Hyun-jin Ryu - Sept. 6
Ryu seems most likely out for the season with left elbow tendonitis, making just one start this season after missing a year and a half following shoulder surgery. But last week, Roberts said Ryu is “close” to picking up a baseball, trying to give the comeback one last try. Ryu last pitched on July 7, and his 60-day DL stint is up next week.
Scott Kazmir - Sept. 7
Kazmir is dealing with neck inflammation and last pitched on Aug. 22, so the first day he could be back is next Wednesday. Though given that Kazmir hasn’t thrown yet his timetable could be a little bit longer.
Trayce Thompson - Sept. 9
The outfielder had broken bones in is back, so that will be the more likely determinant of his availability and readiness than anything, especially since he hasn’t yet been cleared for baseball activities. But no matter when he is ready, he will have to serve the full 60 days on his DL stint. Thompson last played on July 10, so his 60th day on the DL is next Thursday, eligible to be activated no sooner than one day later.
Chris Hatcher - Sept. 18
The relief pitcher has been out since July with a right oblique strain. He last pitched on July 19, so wouldn’t be able to be activated from the 60-day DL until the third week of September, with just 14 games remaining in the regular season.
Not expected back
Scott Van Slyke will have surgery on his right wrist on Thursday, and isn’t eligible to return off the 60-day DL until after the regular season ends anyway.
Yimi Garcia was out since April with right biceps soreness and was making his way back on a rehab assignment in late July, before getting shut down.
Chin-hui Tsao has been out since May with right triceps soreness, and hasn’t pitched since.
40-man roster implications
The only two Dodgers on the 40-man roster not listed above are pitchers Carlos Frias and Josh Ravin, who might still figure into September plans whether they are healthy enough to return or not.
Frias is on the minor league DL and hasn’t pitched in a game since July 7, while Ravin hasn’t pitched since Aug. 13, on the DL with right triceps soreness.
If unable to return, both Frias and Ravin are candidates to be transferred to the 60-day disabled list in order to open up spots on the 40-man roster for others. For Frias, that would involve first technically recalling him from Triple-A then simultaneously placing him on the 60-day DL, which would earn Frias a major league paycheck and service time for the remainder of the year.
The Dodgers will need 40-man space for each of Kershaw, Ethier, Wood and Thompson, plus anyone else who returns from the 60-day DL. One 40-man spot was already created on Sunday when catcher Shawn Zarraga was sent outright to the minors.
The top prospect
This also brings us to the question of Jose De Leon, who is not on the 40-man roster but has dominated in Triple-A, to the tune of a 1.56 ERA with 45 strikeouts and two walks in August, three straight double-digit-strikeout games and five on the season, and 40 strikeouts since his last walk.
The idea of having De Leon on the roster in September, even in relief, sounds great, but given the lack of a glaring, festering hole in the current Dodgers’ rotation (as we have seen this season, that could change in a heartbeat), the most prudent course of action with De Leon might be patience.
In a week or so, it will be more clear who is and isn’t ready to return, and perhaps then it would be easier to add De Leon without designating someone else for assignment.
And remember, all of this is without considering the Dodgers might add a player or two via trade by 9 p.m. PT on Wednesday, the deadline for someone to be in an organization for postseason eligibility. Last year, for instance, outfielders Justin Ruggiano and Chris Heisey were traded for on Aug. 31. But we’ll deal with that if it happens.